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Arming Against Hitler: France and the Limits of Military Planning (Modern War Studies (Paperback)) Paperback – 30 Jun 1996

3.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas (30 Jun. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700611096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700611096
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.6 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,506,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"A compellingly distinctive and original contribution to our understanding of the period."--John Sweets, author of Choices in Vichy France: The French Under Nazi Occupation "A brilliantly written and important book that adds substantially to our understanding of the French experience in 1928-1939, as well as the true nature of national security planning and military reform."--Robert Doughty, author of The Seeds of Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine, 1919-1939 and The Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940

-A compellingly distinctive and original contribution to our understanding of the period.---John Sweets, author of Choices in Vichy France: The French Under Nazi Occupation -A brilliantly written and important book that adds substantially to our understanding of the French experience in 1928-1939, as well as the true nature of national security planning and military reform.---Robert Doughty, author of The Seeds of Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine, 1919-1939 and The Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In a closely argued and meticulously researched monograph,
Eugenia Kiesling argues that French military preparations
prior to WWII were deficient not because of bad doctrine or
slovenly preparation, but because of basic political and
economic constraints that made it difficult (if not impossi-
ble) to keep up with their much more numerous German
neighbors. For a close study of exactly what went wrong in
France in 1940 and why, this is essential reading for the
student of the Second World War.
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Format: Paperback
An excellent account of the reasons behind the equipment and doctrine of the French army of 1940, and, by the same token, the reasons for defeat.
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By A Customer on 18 April 1999
Format: Hardcover
In 1940 using a plan designed by General Manstien Germany attacked France. The campaign cut off the French from their Belgian and English Allies who were forced to retreate or surrender. Germany was then left to conquer a much reduced opposition.
At the time it was thought that Germany outnumbered the allies and had vastly superior weapons. After the war it was found that the allies in fact outnumbered the Germans and that most German weapons were either inferior to or at most equal to the allied.
This book tries to argue that the preparations made by France were a factor in the French defeat. It is hard to show that this was the case. The book parallels a debate which took place in German conentration camps during the war. The French Military tried to put the government on trial for betraying the nation and letting France be defeated. Blum the prime minister of France was able to show how he had given the army everything that it wanted.
France lost the war not because of the size of its armies or the weapons it had but because of the stupidity of its military leaders.
The book simply fails to look at France in the context of German rearmament. If it did it would show that the French program was ratinal and adequate.
All in all not worth the money.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars 10 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Avoids the Standard Myths in Assessing French Military Problems of 1930s 12 Sept. 2016
By R. A Forczyk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In most Second World War historiography, the French Army does not get much sympathy. Instead, for decades historians have chastised the French for being inflexible, for being prepared only to fight the last war, for adopting a flawed military doctrine and a host of other deficiencies. Under the most scathing analysis, readers are brought to the precipice where the seemingly-inescapable conclusions are: how could the French Army in 1940 have been so stupid? And, couldn’t they see the correct approach they SHOULD have taken? Unfortunately, this kick-the-French when they are down approach has led many historians into a well-worn groove that prevents them from examining events in a different light. In Arming Against Hitler (1996), West Point professor Eugenia C. Kiesling takes a very different approach which delivers a cogent interpretation that broadens our understanding of what happened to the French Army in 1940. Kiesling is more sympathetic to the French position in the Interwar period and does a great job of putting issues in perspective, without attempting to conceal the flaws within the French Army. Overall, this book is a well-argued piece of military history that essentially argues that countries get the military that they are willing to pay for in peace, not the one they would like to have when the chips are down.

Prof. Kiesling’s main thesis is that the French military was forced to develop its doctrine, train its troops and prepare for war in a resource-constrained environment where they did not have as broad a range of choices as later historians have suggested. Political and financial choices made by the leaders of the Third Republic constrained how the French military could prepare for war, which shaped how the military could adopt evolving technologies. As Kiesling notes, that France adopted a cautious defensive strategy should not be criticized in itself, given that democracies were trying to avoid wars, not start them. French soldiers and politicians knew that their military in the 1930s was not perfect, but they thought it good enough to accomplish its mission.

The book is divided into six thematic chapters, the first of which covers national mobilization policies in the decade leading up to the Second World War. Based upon their experience in the First World War, French leaders thought they knew how to mobilize industrial and human resources upon mobilization, but in fact their pre-war rhetoric proved empty and the high-level councils established to run mobilization proved useless. The second chapter discusses the futile efforts to create a cadre of military and civilian experts in high-level staff colleges, which really went nowhere.
In the third chapter, one of the French Army’s real problems is addressed: training a conscript force after the term of conscription was reduced to 18 months in 1923 then just 1 year in 1930. This was a political choice – I wish Prof. Kiesling had gone more just into why this reduction was felt necessary and who pushed it through the legislature – and it severely impaired the French Army’s ability to prepare for modern war. Faced with new drafts of conscripts every six months, the French Army was basically reduced to a recurring cycle of basic training and could spend very little time on training above the company level. Even though the French Army was receiving many weapons in the 1930s, the conscripts saw very little of them and could only be taught individual skills before they were shifted to the reserves (which did not train as often as they were supposed to). On occasion, Kiesling does chide French senior officers for believing their conscript units were more prepared than they actually were, but also notes that the innate cautiousness of French tactics was based on an understanding that their troops were not capable of more. This idea is hammered home further in chapter four, ‘the unready reserve,’ which outlines how poorly-prepared France’s reserves were to do much of anything. One take-away that I gained here, although not explicitly stated, was that the French Army had no real NCO corps; select men were elevated to NCO status after a single year of active service, but then received no special training. Any soldier knows that an army without a solid NCO corps is a very fragile and lethargic organization. Another interesting take-away was that men who volunteered for service – presumably more motivated than the average conscript – were generally sent to serve in the Colonial forces.

The final chapters address the French adoption of the Methodical Battle doctrine, which is interesting and well supported. As the author notes, the French anticipated a long war and their doctrine was designed to win it at the lowest cost. She spends a good deal of time demonstrating that the French did embrace tanks and mechanization, but as a component within their existing doctrine, not as something requiring new methods. The French High Command was aware of German Panzer tactics, but believed that their anti-tank guns could neutralize this threat and that French armored units would prove to be more potent operating within a combined arms team. Overall, Arming Against Hitler is a very well-done and erudite effort. My only criticism would be that the author dealt with the French Army in isolation and never discussed the competition for resources with the other services. For example, why was France building four expensive battleships in the 1930s, but their army had very little ammunition for training and no anti-tank mines? The inability of the French Air Force to prepare support the army in wartime should also have been addressed, since it was not just the Panzers that defeated France in 1940, but the synergy of German mechanized tactics with close air support.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interwar French Military Planning 17 Oct. 2014
By DFM - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kiesling sheds new light on the complex political structure that, in her view, essentially tied France's hands while it prepared for mass mobilization. The book is a modified version of Kiesling's doctoral dissertation, and is supported by numerous primary sources from French, British, and American archives.

Kiesling argues that, although the French engaged in extensive military planning during the pre-World War II period, it was hindered by political differences, anti-militarist fervor, inter-service bickering, and lack of resources. As a result of these circumstances, Kiesling claims, the army in 1940 "could not have been different." The author highlights the internal disputes between legislators that resulted in the shelving of important mobilization legislation, refusal by all branches of the military to support a supreme commander, a national defense college that had an ill-defined mandate and refused to incorporate hypothetical policies and exercises, the division of the army into two separate parts (metropolitan and colonial), and minimal reserve exercises during the interwar period (due to lack of funding by anti-militarist parliamentarians).

The author does an excellent job of explaining how these deficiencies adversely affected France's ability to plan for mass mobilization, and traces their origins to disunity within the legislature and the military. Just as disagreements between the "socialist" Chamber and the "liberal" Senate highlighted the intractability of political issues and resulted in the failure to pass a wartime national law or agree on appropriations, the military was equally fractured. For example, many within the army supported the notion of a unified command, while the navy defended its independence and the air force was mixed. Additionally, the branches were fearful that the national defense college might enable one service to "alter the existing balance of power." Various factions and disagreements on both the civilian and uniformed side greatly hindered France's ability to reach consensus on matters significant to mass mobilization.

Although Kiesling's thesis is, for the most part, well-supported, her concluding claim that the outcome "could not have been different" is a bit of a stretch. She does an admirable job explaining how structural issues and disagreements resulted in insufficient military planning at the strategic level; however, several of the examples provided throughout the book also highlight poor decisions made regardless of these constraints. Enforcing basic discipline within ranks (officers had little contact with their men, who often viewed them with contempt), training with the same gear to be used during battle ("much of the equipment available in 1940 did not exist for training purposes before the war"), and elementary preparation to avoid massive recalls (20,000 aviation workers had to be recalled from the front in 1939 due to France's need of airplanes, a lesson not learned from a similar situation in 1914) are all areas that could have been improved notwithstanding systemic concerns. Although unlikely to have significantly altered the outcome of 1940, well-disciplined ranks familiar with battlefield equipment certainly would have enhanced France's capacity to fight.

In sum, Kiesling provides a substantive analysis of an oft-ignored topic, contributing to a better understanding of early World War II history. Challenging the assumption that French military planning was virtually non-existent, she effectively expounds upon the inherent challenges and difficulties the Third Republic faced while drafting procedures for mass mobilization. Rather than simply focusing on the decisions that contributed to France's fall, Kiesling explores what determined the choices it made, resulting in a fascinating study likely to influence the way historians evaluate the interwar period.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential History 28 Nov. 2008
By Retired Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Without much exaggeration it could be claimed that France begin preparing for its next confrontation with Germany before the ink had dried on the signatures to the Treaty of Versailles. This made France's rapid and complete defeat at the hands of the Germans twenty years later all the more puzzling. This book provides an absolutely indispensable and detailed history of why French military planning for that event from 1919 to 1940 proved so futile.

Keisling has amassed a great deal of material not only the strategic aspect of French planning, but more remarkably on the tactical side as well. She provides a devastating and clearly accurate account of broken reserve and training systems that the French army relied on in preparation for the next war. She also provides original and significant information on French Army mechanization and motorization programs prior to 1940.

As she and other historians have pointed out the French Army of 1940 was numerically superior and better equipped than the invading German Army. But the French Army was fatally handicapped by flawed strategic and tactical doctrines as well as a lack of effective training. All this was the bitter fruits of a disastrous military system that was exacerbated by poor strategic and tactical planning and doctrines.

There is little doubt that Keisling has complete mastery of her material and has presented a unique and important aspect to the history of France and WWII.
4 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not so good 18 April 1999
By Tom Munro - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1940 using a plan designed by General Manstien Germany attacked France. The campaign cut off the French from their Belgian and English Allies who were forced to retreate or surrender. Germany was then left to conquer a much reduced opposition.
At the time it was thought that Germany outnumbered the allies and had vastly superior weapons. After the war it was found that the allies in fact outnumbered the Germans and that most German weapons were either inferior to or at most equal to the allied.
This book tries to argue that the preparations made by France were a factor in the French defeat. It is hard to show that this was the case. The book parallels a debate which took place in German conentration camps during the war. The French Military tried to put the government on trial for betraying the nation and letting France be defeated. Blum the prime minister of France was able to show how he had given the army everything that it wanted.
France lost the war not because of the size of its armies or the weapons it had but because of the stupidity of its military leaders.
The book simply fails to look at France in the context of German rearmament. If it did it would show that the French program was ratinal and adequate.
All in all not worth the money.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the best description about the French defeat in 1940 27 July 2002
By 1. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Kiesling main thesis is that the lack of trianing of reservist and regular officers led to an overly cautious military doctrine. The beginnning of the book describes some of the crisis facing the French military. Consrcipts were poorly trained since they only had two years worth of training. The same also applied to reservist. The French army was overly strained as to whether to devote resources to the reservists or the conscripts. The schooling that French officers received was limited to their particular branch of the armed forces and lacked any geopolitics or any overview of current military operations. To make matters worse the French army lacked any cohesion. Men in the reserves would be originally in their regional unit than transferred to an new unit based on their technical skills. As a result of this policy men lacked any time to become well adjusted to their unit. The end result of these above mentioned factors was that the French developed a doctrine that was highly centralized and overly cautious. I worked reccomend this book to read alongside James Corum's "The Roots of Blitzkrieg," in order to understand the French defeat in 1940.
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